Like most Republicans, I oppose a mass amnesty for illegal aliens. I think it unjust that aliens who are engaged in lawful work or study should be ordered, along with their families, to return home when their visas expire while the illegal aliens who worked or studied beside them are invited to stay for the rest of their lives.
Even so, as a father and grandfather, I can imagine the heartbreak of middle-aged parents being forced to restart their lives in the impoverished, crime-wracked countries from whence many came. In short, I feel sorry for them. I expect that most citizens who tell opinion pollsters they support amnesty for illegal alien families are unmoved by political and economic arguments. Instead, like me, they just feel sorry for them.
Why has natural human sympathy for families in distress, found among Americans of all political persuasions, not led to more progress on immigration reform? House Speaker Boehner blames it on his caucus' "distrust" of President Obama, but legalization advocates who genuinely care about the plight of the undocumented need to realize that conservative distrust is not limited to the president. These advocates have cast doubt on their own motives and intentions by promoting their amnesty-for-everybody agenda with misleading claims and false promises. A few examples:
"Back taxes." President Obama has repeatedly asserted that "legalization" is not "amnesty" because legalized aliens will have to pay "back taxes" before adjusting their status. As with his infamous promises about Obamacare, the president should have read the bill before reciting his talking points. The Senate's legalization bill does require that "back taxes" be paid, but "back taxes" are then cleverly defined as taxes that have been "assessed." Since taxes are "assessed" only when reported on a tax return or discovered during an Internal Revenue Service audit, illegal aliens who never filed a tax return and never got caught have no "back taxes" to pay.
"Record deportations." Democrats belittle "enforcement-first" Republicans, claiming that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has deported more illegal aliens under Mr. Obama than under any other president. How can this be, when the ICE union's president has stated in sworn testimony to Congress that ICE officers are "regularly prohibited" by Obama appointees from arresting illegal aliens? The answer is "fuzzy math."
In recent litigation, the administration was forced to disclose that ICE apprehensions have fallen dramatically since the president took office. ICE deportations have increased only because hundreds of thousands of aliens apprehended at the border, who in the past were returned by the Border Patrol, have instead been turned over to ICE for "deportation." The president admitted this "deception" during a 2011 roundtable of Hispanic reporters: "The statistics are actually a little deceptive because . . . we've been apprehending folks at the borders and sending them back. That is counted as a deportation, even though they may have only been held for a day."
"We can't deport 11 million people." The vastness of the illegal population supposedly makes them impossible to remove. Yet, when arrested, five out of six illegal aliens return home voluntarily. The problem is not getting them to leave; it is finding them in the first place. To stem future illegal immigration, the Senate bill requires employers to validate the Social Security numbers of new hires through the federal E-Verify system. In fact, through its "no-match" program, the Social Security Administration already knows which employees are using suspicious numbers; it simply won't share that information with ICE. If Congress made them do so, ICE could then track down most illegal workers already in the country, most of whom would then depart without resort to whips or cattle cars.
"Kids" and "Dreamers." According to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a recent convert to amnesty: "It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home." To be sure, the undocumented high school honor student who was brought here as a baby has a compelling argument for merciful application of our immigration laws. However, none of the "Dreamer" proposals on the table require that the alien arrived as a child or was brought here by his parents. A 16-year old who jumped the border to join a Los Angeles street gang is also eligible.
These and other questionable claims and promises in support of mass legalization have gained currency only because of enormous expenditures to promote them through lax or biased media. If any of the interest groups that advocate legalization really want to help the undocumented, they should stop fibbing to the public about immigration reform and become credible partners with Republicans, who are open to humanitarian solutions for the most deserving cases.
William Chip is an international attorney and a member of the Center for Immigration Studies Board of Directors.